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Ebola Remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern

FEB 12, 2020 | GRANT M. GALLAGHER
The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). This decision was advised by the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee in a meeting convened by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO).

"As long as there is a single case of Ebola in an area as insecure and unstable as Eastern DRC, the potential remains for a much larger epidemic…nonetheless the signs are extremely positive in the Eastern DRC," Ghebreyesus said in a press conference announcing the decision.

A PHEIC was initially declared in July 2019. Once a PHEIC is declared, the WHO emergency committee hosts regular meetings to reassess the status of the situation. In October 2019 the committee determined that the outbreak remained a PHEIC.

On February 11, 2020, the director-general’s opening remarks in an update on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) reminded the world that the attention paid to COVID-19 should not detract from the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the DRC.

Media focus on COVID-19, including fears stoked by many headlines referring to it as the “deadly” coronavirus, has outpaced attention paid not only to a particularly dangerous influenza season, but to existing outbreak situations.

“Although the world is now focused on coronavirus, we cannot and must not forget Ebola,” Ghebreyesus said.

Ghebreyesus pointed to promising news, such as the addition of only 3 new confirmed Ebola cases in the week prior.

“But until we have no cases for 42 days, it's not over. As you know, any single case could re-ignite the epidemic, and the security situation in eastern DRC remains extremely fragile,” Ghebreyesus cautioned.

The Ebola control strategy remains ongoing in what the director-general called “full response mode,” with 5400 alerts investigated and over 700 people receiving vaccinations on February 10, 2020, alone.

According to a WHO situation report released on February 8, the case count at the time had a reached a total of 3431, including 3308 confirmed cases and 123 probable cases. Health workers make up 127 (5%) of confirmed cases.

As of February 8, a total of 2251 deaths had been recorded, indicating a case fatality ratio among confirmed cases of 64%.

In the most recent episode of Contagion® Connect, Ebola: Past, Present, Future, Médecins Sans Frontières project lead for Ebola vaccination John Johnson warned that success in the DRC should not be taken for granted.

“We need to be prepared for the next outbreak…Ebola is always going to be one step ahead of us and we need to prepare for that,” Johnson said.

For the latest case counts in the Ebola outbreak in the DRC, visit the Contagion® Outbreak Monitor.
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